Long Way Home

Gumda 210, originally uploaded by linseyis.

After a week and a half in a remote village, I’ve had two days rest, and I’m headed out to another. Forgive the rushed, unedited post; I thought I ought to write something before I forgot it all. Tomorrow I head out to Lamahi, where small girls are sold into the sex slave business. I’m headed out with several people who have research the situation, and the organization that I’m here with has rescued many of these girls. The trip should be pretty amazing. After that, I’m headed out for a four day kayaking course down the Nepali rivers. I’m sure to have exciting stories about both when I return!

And while I’m gone, a very Happy Birthday to my mama!

Here’s a little bit about my last week. As Dickens says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” I’ve also posted new pics; there’s more to come…no time to upload them all…

Long Way Home

I complain about the drive to my parent’s house in Los Angeles from San Diego. But when I agreed to trek home with Binu and Sarita, two girls from Papa’s House Orphanage, for the Dasai festival, I had no idea what I was in for.

The girls, sixteen and fourteen, negotiated the five a.m. taxi and the bus “terminal” (really a sprawling parking lot for rusted buses) like old pros. Sarita sat behind Binu and I, squeezing her eyes shut as the bus wound around hairpin turns, driving off the main road onto a dirt one, sending babies flying toward the roof, where another twenty people perched on top; everyone hung on to something for dear life as the bus bounced from one ditch to another. Sarita vomited out the side several times, foregoing the black plastic baggie distributed by the conductor.

We spent the night at someone’s home/hotel, nothing more than a one room, corrugated tin-sided house with four wooden beds. I had my first of many rice, potato and dahl (lentil) meals here, scraping up the stuff with my hand, listening to the girls slurp across the table.

The next morning at 5 a.m., we took a “taxi” ride twenty minutes to the edge of where motorcars could travel. We walked along the brown, flowing river, stopping every once in a while for road-side chow mien or water from a fall. “We must eat here,” Binu said at one point. What she meant was that after walking for three hours, the rest of our ten hour hike would be up, up, up into the mountains, far beyond my physical and almost beyond my mental capabilities.

“Let’s go,” Binu said as I stopped for the thousandth time, huffing and puffing, trying to enjoy the scenery: the river below, now worlds away, the terraced rice fields, green and waving in the afternoon breeze, the women carrying much more than I and barely breaking a sweat. I armed myself with a mantra, dedicating the most difficult physical activity I had ever undertaken to those who needed support. Right foot. Left. Right. Left. Tiny tortoise steps, and when dark fell, and we walked still, illuminated by my dim headlamp, I could not believe it. Thirteen hours after we began, we stumbled upon a two story stone, dung and wooden house in the village of Gumda. We were home.

Binu kissed her Auntie’s feet; the old woman whose face wrinkled like a date, squatted by the fire in the middle of the dark room. The only light came from the fire pit and a flashlight off to the side. Her gold nose ring glinted in the dark. In my room, nothing more than a hay loft on the second floor, I crawled into my unpadded wooden bed, stretched out, and realized it was two feet too short.

The next day I awoke with a cold. Everyone in the village hacks and spits as if they had tuberculosis, so my “common cold” as Binu kept referring to it, paled in comparison. Binu lacked the interest and passion of a good translator; she would have much rather played with the kids in the courtyard than answer my questions. Still, when I came down with an asthma attack on the third day, a product of sleeping in the smoke of two fires, she seemed concerned. She walked with me as I wheezed past the well where women washed dishes, clothes and themselves, filled buckets for water. With my lungs constricted, I thought I would die in the remote village. The nearest phone was at least a three hour walk; I had never felt so far from home.

Two days later, I felt a bit restored. I could breathe with only a little difficulty, and I now hacked up phlegm, a sure sign my “common cold” was abating. Binu’s attitude, however, lacked the same disappearing act. Regardless, I sat with the women with whom I could communicate very little. Our common language became shelling peas, cutting cilam, boiling water, chopping fire wood, sorting wild mushrooms. I played with the kids in the area between the house and the “barn,” enjoying the fresh air and the view of the Himalayas behind.

During the festival of Dasain, I was marked with a rice tikka on my forehead, had whisps of plant placed behind my ear. I went to the heart of the village, where one morning, I discovered several buffalo had been slaughtered for the evening’s party. Blood and guts spilled everywhere; hands and hacksaws were red. Boys hammered into skulls with axes and the meat was equally divided for the number of families who would purchase it for 500 rupees.

Later that night, Bir, Binu’s brother, and her mother, squatted over sharp knives, pulled meat from a bucket and chopped it into pieces. What we wouldn’t eat (they, I should say; I opted to be a vegetarian that night) they cut into thin strips that they hung over the fire to dry out.

The day we left, we awoke before the sun. Binu’s mom opened a sachet of red tikka dye and marked my forehead, whispered something in Gurung, handed me a bunch of flowers. Auntie did the same, and before I knew it, I had red smeared on me like a map and a white shawl tied around my neck. A group of us set off in the dark, a brother carrying my bag; we stopped at the top of the first hill, took last photos and said our goodbyes. At the edge of the village, Binu stopped, gathered an assortment of leaves, came over to me and dusted me off. “We believe in witches,” she said. “Oh, and I’m a witch?” I asked. Binu and I had not developed the best of relationships. I was tempted to throw out a Barbara Kitchens cackle. “No, no,” and she dusted off Sarita and herself and bag as well. “Let’s go,” she commanded.

I was as nervous about the trek back as I was about the journey to Gumda. I knew my knees might give out at any moment down the perilous mountains, and I was still having trouble breathing. Plus, I was in a silent standoff with Binu and I was anxious as ever about getting back; it was a long way home. Three hours down, we met up with six-year-old Asmaya, her mother and grandmother, who were taking the girl to Katmandu to wash dishes in a hotel and receive an education. Our pace was tempered by Asmaya’s small legs, and after my initial irritation at walking slower, I realized my knees needed the crawl. Five hours in and a line of unladen donkeys sauntered by. Binu had the brilliant idea of letting the animals cart our bags down; this was particularly good for Asmaya’s mother, who lugged a feed-sack sized bag of potatoes in addition to clothes, food for the journey, and, at some times, Asmaya. The donkeys were loaded and our pace picked up. At a break in our journey, I saw a group of white trekkers tromp up the hill. They were the only non-Nepali’s I’d seen in two weeks. “Are you lost,” one of them asked me. I explained myself, looked in awe at their porters who carted folding tables, complete stoves, all the hikers’ gear, and, unbelievably, one flip-flopped Nepali porter carried, in a cut-out wooden basket slug across his head, a grown man.

Twelve hours later and we walked alongside the river again. I watched Asmaya, who had never left the village, plug her ears against the watery roar, bug her eyes as she crossed her first suspension bridge and look around in awe as she took her first car ride. By eight p.m., we had reached our little home/hotel again and a familiar wooden bed never looked so good. Halfway home.

The ten hour bus ride back was uneventful, despite the sheer number of women in their festival reds with babies on hip boarding and exiting the bus. As we crawled back into the smog and congestion of Katmandu, I calculated the time to see if my mom, boyfriend or best friend would be online. Even back at the orphanage, I would be thousands of miles away from home, yet a familiar voice would be just the elixir for my “common cold,” creaky knees and lonely heart.


2 Responses to “Long Way Home”

  1. 1 Romy
    October 16, 2008 at 12:22 am

    So what was up with Binu? Why the silent treatment?

    Oh, and I hope you’re not lonely or less lonely now. Love, Romy

  2. October 21, 2008 at 4:39 am

    The silent treatment was, I think, a symptom of Binu being 16. And of having to cart around an older, so uncool, unfit ugly ducking step-sister (at least that’s how I perceived her perceiving me…)

    But not lonely now, thanks! I’m in the beautiful town of Pokhara, Nepal and I begin a kayaking course tomorrow with a group of friends. I can’t wait to be submerged under water for grueling periods of time…

    Thanks for keeping up with me, Romy! How’s the year going?


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